Governor Upham and the Cleveland Diamond: Part III – The Windy City
Photo courtesy of the North Wood County Historical Society
By Kris Leonhardt
On May 26, 1893, New York publication The World announced the impending public auction of the “United States’ second largest diamond,” a yellow 42 1-3-carat diamond inferior in size only to the famed Tiffany Diamond.
The sale, a result of a failed raffle by the Actors’ Fund, was to be managed that day by a New York firm. The auction was already the subject of scrutiny as diamond experts were unable to make an accurate valuation on the stone. With no existing diamonds large enough to compare it to and the Tiffany diamond twice its size, the intrinsic value was never accurately ascertained.
John Rogers, the owner of the diamond, waited for several years for compensation from the sale, but it never came. In 1901 Rogers filed charges that would take him and the Actors’ Fund all the way to the New York Supreme Court. The case took two years but never had true resolution. In the end it was determined that no auction had ever taken place, and the Cleveland Diamond slipped quietly from public attention.
As the New York announcement of the Cleveland Diamond sale hit the papers in May of 1893, the White City was taking shape in Chicago’s Jackson Park. The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair was the site of multiple gem exhibitions, as well as a diamond mining exhibit, where 100 tons of earth from South Africa’s mines were explored each day for public viewing in the Mining Building.
The Cleveland Diamond, the only one of its enormous size in the country at the time, would have been a great public draw, and with multiple venues available to sell the diamond, it would have been the perfect spot to exhibit the large gem.
Also exhibiting at the fair was Marshfield’s William H. Upham, who put on display his white ash and red elm products in the Forestry Building. The Upham family made two extended trips to the Chicago site, as noted in Mrs. Upham’s diary, one at the start of the fair in May and one in October as the fair was commencing. In addition, William made trips to conduct business during the course of the event.
One year later, Upham won the governorship, and as he entered the room during his inaugural reception, guests were hit by the brilliance of the gem that gleamed from the new governor’s neck. There displayed in a breastpin sat a 42 1-3-carat yellow diamond.
During Upham’s administration newspapers often referred to Upham’s diamond as “the searchlight from Oconomowoc” or the “searchlight from Wisconsin Dells.” The Kansas City Journal stated, “It was closely identified with (Upham’s) successful administration, and not less well-known in Madison than his Excellency himself was this great gem that shone from his shirtfront like the headlight on a cable train.”
Upham would display the diamond at each and every reception throughout his term. However, as he returned to his Marshfield home and a community of more meager means, he knew the diamond had no place there.
Next week: Conclusion – The Diamond Queen